FaithWorld

SSPX Bishop Fellay snubs pope’s ultimatum on rejoining Rome

Bishop Bernard Fellay, 13 Jan 2006/Franck PrevelIt seems there’s no need to wait until Monday* to see how the traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) will respond to the Vatican ultimatum and pledge loyalty to Pope Benedict. Its leader Bishop Bernard Fellay spoke about the conditions last Friday (June 20) — before it was known that Benedict had called his bluff — and made clear the SSPX could not accept it. “They just say ‘shut up’,” he said in a sermon at an SSPX seminary in Winona, Minnesota. “We are not going … to shut up.”

In another part of the sermon, he says: “We are, shall we say, something like at a crossroads. In a certain way, Rome is telling us, O.K. we are ready to lift the excommunications, but you cannot continue this way. So we have no choice. We are not going this way. We are continuing what we’ve done. We have fought now for 40 years to keep this faith alive, to keep this tradition, not only for ourselves but for the Church. And we are just going to continue. Happens what happens. Everything is in God’s hands.”

Click here for our news report. Here is an audio file of his sermon (in English). Hat tips to Andrea Tornielli for breaking the story and blogging it along (in Italian) and La Croix’s Isabelle de Gaulmyn for the Vatican clarification (in French). The relevant part of Fellay’s sermon is copied out verbatim on the second page of this post (see below) to give the full context of his comments.

This is not that surprising, given that Fellay has always insisted the schism was not only about the old Latin Mass. SSPX leaders are also firmly opposed to the Second Vatican Council, some of them more staunchly and bluntly than Fellay. The interesting part is that many SSPX followers are probably more interested in the traditional Mass than the other theological points Fellay insists on. So they may go back to Rome now that the Latin Mass will be more widely used in Catholic churches. Tornielli wrote: “Now that they have obtained the Mass in the old rite, many faithful don’t understand why the SSPX doesn’t finally make its peace with Rome.” As Fr. Z puts it on WDTPRS, “Most people want a reverent Mass and sound preaching. They care little for the loftier theological arguments. ”

Pope Benedict, 10 May 2007/Tony GentileThere’s a lively debate on some Catholic blogs (see among others Angelqueen, Rorate Caeli, The Sensible Bond, The Gregorian Rite, The Pledge of Future Glory) over whether the fact that the five conditions set by the Vatican did not mention Vatican II or the new Mass (novus ordo) means the SSPX might not have to accept them. But a pledge to “avoid the pretense of a Magisterium superior to the Holy Father” covers those two points and lots more. That wording is just a sugar coating for what is a bitter pill for the SSPX.

Clock ticking as Vatican calls Catholic rebels’ bluff

While most attention on the Godbeat is focused this week on a possible but not probable Anglican schism, the Vatican has started the clock ticking on a real Catholic schism it wants to settle once and for all. And it wants an answer by Saturday (not much Anglican-style muddling through there!). A slow and patient strategy by Pope Benedict to deal with the traditionalist rebels in the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has now reached the endgame phase.

Andrea TornielliAndrea Tornielli (left), the well-informed vaticanista of the Milan daily Il Giornale, has produced two scoops in recent days about an ultimatum the Vatican has presented to the “Lefebvrists”. He first reported in Il Giornale on Monday that the pontifical commission “Ecclesia Dei” had told SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay that the Swiss-based rebel group should accept by June 28 the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the validity of the new Mass (“Novus Ordo”) that replaced the old Latin Mass if it wanted to return to the full communion with Rome that was broken in 1988. Tornielli reported today on his blog Sacri Palazzi the actual conditions as written to Fellay (see Fr. Z’s English translation). If the SSPX accepts them, it can become a “prelature” within the Catholic Church, much like Opus Dei is now. If not, they lost their best chance at rejoining Rome and having any influence on the Vatican.

They have already had considerable influence. Pope Benedict has resurrected the old Latin Mass, one of the main SSPX demands. But that was not actually the heart of the matter. His demand that the SSPX must in return accept Vatican II, including its statements on religious freedom, is the one that sticks in the Lefebvrists’ throats the most. This two-track approach seems to be a strategy to welcome back those traditionalists who really just wanted the Latin Mass, and isolate the harder-line types who rejected Vatican II completely.

Pope Benedict’s evolution book finally comes out in English

Creation and Evolution bookcoverAn English translation of Pope Benedict’s 2006 discussion of evolution with his former students has finally come out and I recommend it to anyone who’s confused about where the Roman Catholic Church stands on this issue. It’s called Creation and Evolution and is publised by Ignatius Press in the U.S. The discussion was held in German and the original text, Schöpfung und Evolution, appeared in April 2007.

I mention the confusion about this issue because a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece by Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn prompted supporters of “intelligent design” (ID) to think the Church was embracing their argument. He denied that to me in an interview a few months later. So when it became known that Benedict would discuss evolution with his former doctoral students — his so-called Schülerkreis — at Castel Gandolfo in September 2006, there was considerable interest in what he would say.

Schöpfung und Evolution bookcoverThe German publisher, Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg, sent me a PDF version of the book in German under embargo, so I wrote a news story the day it appeared. In the book, Benedict said science was too narrow to explain creation, which was not random as Darwinists insist, but has a rationality that goes back to God. He argued this on philosophical and theological grounds, not on the faith arguments that creationists use (“the Bible says so”) or the biology-based examples that ID prefers to argue that some life forms are too complex to have evolved.

Latin Mass “power of silence” raises UK Catholic decibels

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 25 Dec 2005/Alessandro BianchiCardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos was at Westminster Cathedral in London over the weekend to lead one of the highest profile celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church’s old Latin Mass here since the 1960s. The Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales has been lukewarm about the prospect of the old rite being celebrated alongside Mass in English, so the cardinal’s presence was a clear reminder of what the Vatican wants.

Before the Mass on Saturday, Castrillon Hoyos met four journalists (myself included) to explain why Pope Benedict decided last year to promote wider use of the old Latin Mass. He praised the traditional Tridentine rite for its “power of silence,” an element of contemplation he said had disappeared from worship since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. If his pre-Mass briefing is anything to go by, however, the Latin Mass also has a power to raise the decibel level among Catholics in Britain.

The Colombian-born cardinal, who is head of the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei for relations with traditionalists, said the new form of the Mass had led to “abuses” that had prompted many to abandon the Church. So, he said, the pope wanted the older form to be offered again in all parishes (not only where a group of parishioners requested it, as originally said).

Is Benedict planning to take in traditionalist Anglicans?

Church of England Newspaper logoThere is speculation in Rome that Pope Benedict might receive about 400,000 (yes, 400,000) Traditional Anglican Communion members into the Roman Catholic Church this summer, after the official Anglican Communion finishes its ten-yearly Lambeth Conference on August 3. Both the Church of England Newspaper in the U.K. and the National Catholic Register in the U.S. have run stories on this. Both sides are subscribers only, so all links here are to reports about them.

Traditional Anglican CommunionAccording to the Church of England Newspaper, talks between the Vatican and the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) focus on the question of whether a group can enter into full communion with Rome as an independent rite, similar to the Eastern rite churches that keep their own traditions and leadership. That sounds like it means they would want to use the Book of Common Prayer, keep their married clergy and retain some autonomy of member churches.

The newspaper quotes the Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, the Rt Rev Jack Iker — now in Rome on study leave — that “it is thought that the Pope is sympathetic to the dilemma of traditionalists in the Anglican way.”

Benedict is a liberal, according to traditionalist bishop

Pope Benedict XVI at his weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican, 4 June 2008/Dario PignatelliPope Benedict is “an absolutely liberal pope.” The United States is “founded upon Masonic principles of a revolution, of a rebellion against God”.

It is clear that the man who made these comments has lost some connection to reality. If I told you he had been the target of a Vatican charm offensive in recent years, you might think I had lost a link to reality, too. However, it shows how strange the relationship between the Vatican and the schismatic traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X has become that its head, Bishop Bernard Fellay, could utter the words quoted above.

Fellay, whose SSPX movement champions the traditional Latin Mass and wants the Roman Catholic Church to turn the clock back to before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), thought its star was rising after the election of Pope Benedict three years ago. Benedict has gone a long way to accomodate the SSPX’s liturgical demands, bringing back the Tridentine Mass despite the fact very few other Catholics were asking for it. He has agreed to a new Latin Good Friday prayer that restored traditional phrasing even though it was offensive to Jews (and still not enough for the SSPX). Even Benedict, for all his conservative views, refuses to roll back the reforms of Vatican Two wholesale.

Warm words hint at further Vatican-Moscow thaw

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinWith some news events, not much happens but the atmosphere is so striking that it’s worth mentioning all the same. That was the case in Moscow this week as Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II.

Though this was an unofficial visit, the patriarch and the cardinal both took care to use language noticeable for its friendly, accommodating and even warm tone in their greetings – a continuation of what is seen as a “thaw” and “emerging cooperation” between the two churches.

“I am convinced of the necessity in an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, based on the coincidence of our positions on many of the issues facing the Christian world today,” Alexiy told Kasper. “I believe (your) interest in the life and traditions of the (Orthodox) Church will turn out to be important between our two Churches.”

UPDATE: Turkish crisis puts “post-Islamist” reform on hold

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and guard of honour in Ankara, 17 March 2008/Umit BektasBlogging takes time, which I didn’t have on Friday after finishing an analysis for the Reuters wire about religion in Turkey posted here. I went to Istanbul to research several religion stories. The main impression I left with was that the prospect for religious policy changes raised by the “post- Islamist” AK Party government in recent years has mostly evaporated. The current political crisis that could end up banning the party and barring Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan from belonging to a political party means the end of any liberalisation. In fact, the steam went out of the reform drive a few years ago after Ankara got the green light to negotiate Turkish membership in the European Union.

Turkey has been a test case for what Islam experts call “post-Islamism,” a trend among Muslim political groups that have given up dreams of some kind of Islamic state in favour of more democracy and human rights that include greater religious freedom (here’s a useful summary of the concept). The idea that Islamists could turn into “Muslim democrats” (or “latte Islamists“!) without a hidden agenda to introduce Sharia law once in power met with considerable scepticism. But the Erdogan government, which promoted greater freedoms in Turkey as a means to join the European Union rather than to break down secularist controls on religion in the public sphere, seemed to be prove this view. His cautious approach seemed to reflect a long-term policy to make changes gradually. It’s too much to say this could be a “model” for other Muslim countries because there are too many aspects specific to Turkey and the limits its powerful secularist elite places on religion in the public sphere. But it could be an important test case for reconciling democracy and religious rights.

Turkish models display headscarves at an Ankara fashion show, 5 March 2008/Umit BektasThe political analysts I spoke to were unanimous in rejecting the idea that Erdogan’s AK Party had a long-term “hidden agenda” to “islamise” Turkey. The real goal of Erdogan’s policy was to establish his bloc of business interests from the more religious countryside as partners in the national power structure dominated by the secularist urban elite. Part of this process was to appeal to the religious sentiments of the masses, but religion was never the core of its program. They dropped this caution after their election victory in 2007 by pressing for an end to the ban on headscarves at universities — and paid the price by provoking the legal challenge to their legitimacy.

Turkish crisis puts “post-Islamist” reform on hold

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and guard of honour in Ankara, 17 March 2008/Umit BektasI’m in Istanbul this week for a few stories. The first one, about how Turkey’s political crisis has put a trend towards a more liberal stand on religious freedom on hold, has just run on the Reuters wire (click here for full text).

I’ll get back to this issue in a later post.

In the meantime, feel free to post questions in the comments box and I’ll try to answer them.